History · Nonfiction

Resource Reviews: Pamela, Novels, and Human Rights

As you may be aware, I’ve just finished a research paper entitled “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded: Novels and Human Rights.” It’s about how Pamela and other 18th-century novels laid a foundation for human rights legislation, via the mechanism of empathy. I’ll be posting content from that paper over the next few weeks/months, but first, here are mini-reviews of my major sources. These are for future Googlers researching the topics of literary history, empathy, and human rights history, but are also presented with the knowledge that many of my followers are interested in the topic and might want some stuff to read for funsies and personal education. 😉 They’re in four rough sections: Pamela the novel, my must-reads, empathy and human rights, and Pamela/literary history. As always, if y’all read any of these books, know of any to add, or have any questions, let me know!


Pamela Samuel Richardson coverHere’s more about the novel from my Banned Books Week post back in September. (Once again, it’s one long trigger warning for an abusive relationship). I read the Oxford Classics edition that just came out in 2008, and I was really happy with it. A good-quality physical book, and with great supplemental material. There’s a glossary for common outdated words. There are historical notes and explanations for everything, but they’re well-integrated — endnotes sorted by page number, so there aren’t obtrusive numbers in the text. Plus, I would’ve cited Thomas Keymer’s introduction all through my paper if I could have! He’s a literary scholar who’s basically the authority on Pamela, judging by the number of related books he’s edited.

General (My Must-Reads)

Inventing Human Rights: A History (2007) by Lynn Hunt

I first read about the link between novels and human rights in this book. It’s very readable, and involves more than novels… A lot of interesting links between social norms and human rights.

The Better Angels of Our Nature coverThe Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) by Steven Pinker

It’s a big book, but a fascinating one! It’s all about how cultural norms have changed from earliest known history to now. I reviewed it in (much) more detail here.

Empathy/Human Rights

Empathy and the Novel (2007) by Suzanne Keen

To save yourself the trouble of digging through years of articles, just read this book! Totally fascinating and an excellent recap of the research up to 2007.

Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law (2007) by Joseph R. Slaughter

This is, quite literally, the most boring book I’ve ever read. It’s all about the modern use of novels and social norms to enforce and define human rights legislation. Sounds interesting for us book nerds… but no.

Pamela/Literary History

The Rise of the Novel coverThe Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (1957) by Ian Watt

This was the foundational monograph about the history of novels. A lot’s changed since 1957, so some of Watt’s opinions are out of date. (For example, his “canon” of novelistic history totally ignores Pamela‘s dependence on existing “romantic intrigue” novels). However, he’s still the foundation, and a pretty good place to start if you plan to do any reading in the field.

The Pamela Controversy: Criticisms and Adaptations of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, 1740-1750 (2001) by Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor

A six-volume collection of primary sources. Super cool to look through, because they’re actual photocopies rather than retyped versions, but there’s no real reason to sit and go through them unless you’re researching something specific. There’s no introduction or contextual material.

Pamela in the Marketplace coverPamela in the Marketplace: Literary Controversy and Print Culture in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland (2005) by Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor

This book picks up sort of where their last left off, discussing some of the long-form responses to Pamela. It’s interesting stuff, and readable, but I’m not really sure when you would need this. I didn’t cite anything from it. Maybe if you’re literally researching “literary controversy and print culture in 18th-century Britain and Ireland”!

Reading Fictions, 1660-1740: Deception in English Literary and Political Culture (2008) by Kate Loveman

I only had time to read the chapters dealing with Pamela, but this seems like a more focused (yet more interesting) version of the last book. Fascinating information on printing culture and how tricking each other was a major pasttime. (There was a huge debate about Richardson’s intent as an author, moral elevation vs. sexual titillation. You can’t talk about Pamela long without talking about what deception means).

Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684-1750 (1998) by William Beatty Warner

Again, I only read the one chapter on Pamela, but that one chapter is all about how Pamela was one of the first mass-marketing campaigns and what that means. Interesting stuff, and absolutely important to understanding Pamela.

The Business of Books coverThe Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade (2007) by James Raven

I didn’t use this much, but I’d love to return to it. It’s the go-to academic book on the history of printing/bookselling, but it’s not too academic!

The Family, Sex and Marriage: In England 1500-1800 (abridged edition 1979) by Laurence Stone

Finally, here’s the go-to academic book on family life in England from 1500-1800. I could spend weeks with this book, but only had two days to skim it and grab everything I needed… So, if all goes according to plan, I’ve decided to buy it (in the unabridged version!) and do a deeper study in the spring! I should be able to get quite a few posts out of that after I finish posting Pamela paper stuff!


I only needed ten sources… This is fourteen, and it’s just the highlights. Hi, my name is Hannah, and I’m a researcher.

Obviously I focused more on the literary history approach, with some info about Pamela’s immediate context. You could also do a lot using a history-of-human-rights angle!


7 thoughts on “Resource Reviews: Pamela, Novels, and Human Rights

  1. Welcome to Researchers Anonymous.
    Signs that you need this group include:
    *A propensity to have more resources on papers than strictly necessary.
    *You have regularly searched through footnotes to find more resources — especially if you already have more than enough.
    *Your bibliography is easily longer than your introduction.
    *Someone in a resource passingly mentions a scholar/article/book/site that have a tangential relation to your topic and you instantly scour all resources for said item.
    *A minor point, in a “just for fun” project, will result in many hours spent falling down the rabbit hole of online journals and library catalogs.
    *The idea of being buried neck-deep in musty old books and papers sounds awesome.
    *You may or may not have purchased a somewhat above-budget book that is mostly written in a language you do not know because there is an article in it which is very useful to your topic, but completely unavailable anywhere else, and all attempts to get said book through ILL have proved to try your patience beyond belief.

    If any or all of these are true, we welcome you to join — perhaps we should start by researching some things….

    Love these resources… Have a terrible feeling that I’m going to have to just increase my book collection this winter.. You know, for research.


  2. I always use way more sources than are required. I’m currently writing a paper in which we have a minimum of two non-internet sources. I’ve already cited 8, and I’m missing gaps in my information that I’ll be using 2-4 online newspaper/magazine articles for. Hi, I’m Sabina, and I’m a researcher.

    Liked by 1 person


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